Feeling at home

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There he is, reclining across my test track, near an open window. Billy-puss has now been living with us for just over two months, and he has definitely decided this is his forever home.

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Billy-puss, the helping cat. Helping to distract me from paying work would be more accurate!

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Billy-puss, the supervisor. He likes to stamp his approval, and here he is making sure I was weatherproofing the Big Shed properly.

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Just a perfect Billy-puss size. Sadly, he soon discovered this gap on the workbench shelving was earmarked for non-furry things.

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Billy-puss investigating the cause of a loud crash at the front door the other day. A bumper issue of the Gauge O Guild Gazette, filled with AGM and exhibition news, made a serious dent in the mat!

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When you can’t find him, it’s more than likely Billy-puss is snuggled up in the alcove under our coffee table. He will happily spend most of the day in there. It’s out of the way and, more importantly at this time of year, reasonably cool.

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Cuddles are definitely a thing. He does like to be groomed—and with long hair we’ve very nearly got enough fluff collected to make a pair of gloves.

Best Beloved and I are very happy that Billy has decided he likes living here. He has more than filled the gaping hole left by Sophie. Let’s hope Billy Whizz will be with us for many years to come.

More Collett Coaches

One of my earliest commissions, some years ago now, was to build three Collett coaches from Just Like The Real Thing kits. Who would believe another different client would commission three almost identical coaches a year or so later!

JLTRT 7mm scale kit of a Collett 57ft Bow-ended E127 1st/3rd composite coach.
JLTRT 7mm scale kit of a Collett 57ft Bow-ended E127 1st/3rd composite coach.
JLTRT 7mm scale kit of a Collett 57ft Bow-ended C54 All Third coach.
JLTRT 7mm scale kit of a Collett 57ft Bow-ended C54 All Third coach.
JLTRT 7mm scale kit of a Collett 57ft Bow-ended D94 Brake Third coach.
JLTRT 7mm scale kit of a Collett 57ft Bow-ended D94 Brake Third coach.

These models are all to 1/43rd scale, 7mm to 1ft, and Finescale O Gauge. As they will run as a semi-permanent set, the client requested Kadee knuckle couplings between the vehicles, leaving the standard screw-link couplings at the outer ends. The livery is the first British Railways “blood and custard”, which was applied to gangwayed passenger stock from 1948 until 1956. Although virtually impossible to see, the interiors have been fitted out as authentically as possible, and the guard’s compartment is fully detailed as well.

In case you missed it—although it would be hard to do!—I am a professional modelmaker. I take commissions to build chiefly UK-outline railway subjects to 7mm scale. You can see more about my work on my web site, follow me on Twitter (@HKModelmaker) and find my page on Facebook (search for @HeatherKModelmaker).

Have we peaked?

This isn’t a terribly well organised or thought through post. I just wanted to get the idea out there, so please forgive the somewhat random nature of what follows.

I have come to the conclusion that our civilisation has peaked.

What do I mean by this? Since the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, the progress of Western civilisation has been steady. Yes, it took bloodshed to give us the rights we hold dear, but conflict has also driven progress, particularly in the technological sphere.

A couple of centuries ago, the Industrial Revolution brought mass production of goods, massive improvements in transport and cities that began to grow exponentially. We began to explore our world, to learn about its limits, and—sadly—to exploit much of it. Natural philosophers discovered gravity, how light works, and made the first stumbling steps into understanding the very building blocks of our universe. We looked up and out, beyond our own planet and dreamed of distant places.

In the 20th century, two global conflicts drove technology. We could fly in heavier-than-air-machines, we could dive below the surface of our oceans. We could destroy cities instantly. After 1945, things began to change socially. Here in the UK we created a welfare state, so no-one would need for a home or food if they should find themselves out of work. A national health service, free at the point of delivery and paid for through taxation, meant illnesses and diseases of poverty were virtually eliminated. Life was still hard, but it was getting easier.

We lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation, it is true. A stalemate between two opposing forces, which came almost to blows on many occasions, yet which didn’t prevent society making progress. Civil rights, gender equality, all started in the years following the end of the Second World War. We put men on the Moon!

Yet, as I sit here, tapping away at this keyboard into the ether of another of mankind’s inventions, I can’t help feeling we aren’t making progress any more. Despite the evidence of science, religion is still here. Superstition still has a hold over many millions of our species. Diseases once thought extinct are making a comeback. A world population that’s grown by over four thousand millions since I was born half a century ago is beginning to take its toll on ecology and diversity of our home planet. We were warned about the harm we were doing to our planet, and now it’s virtually too late to stop its effects.

That was a bit depressing. Sorry about that.

I now think, despite iPhones and Internet and jet aircraft and microwaves and organ transplants and space stations, our society has peaked. I think the pinnacle was reached in July 1969, when three men left their home planet, landed on and explored another world, and came safely home to Earth. That, my friends, was the apogee of Western civilisation and Western science. Ever since, for better or worse, we have been in steady decline.

I don’t have an answer, even if I thought there was one. Was there even a question? As I said, this thesis hasn’t really been thought through.

BR Mk1 RMB

The workshop has seen a few builds come to a conclusion—or near conclusion in one case—in the past couple of weeks. Sometimes I find commissioned work gets bogged down for various reasons, and oddly this seems to get worse the closer to completion a model gets. I can’t explain why, but it’s probably to do with lots of little bits and pieces, sub-assemblies and paint jobs all taking their time to come together.

Just completed, aside from one or two quality control issues that appeared after the appointment with the official photographer, is an etched brass kit of a Mk1 RMB (Restaurant Miniature Buffet). This has been a rather protracted build, due in part to ineptitude on my side, and it being a complex kit of several thousand components.

A 1/43rd scale MMP kit, built with modifications to include electric train heating and air braking equipment.

The model represents an RMB, dating from the early 1960s but still running in service in the early 1980s. The kit was adapted to show the modifications and upgrades made to the vehicles over the years. Modifications included strips down the sides of each door, designed to prevent corrosion, and the inclusion of air braking and electric train heating equipment in addition to the vacuum braking and steam heating.

A 1/43rd scale MMP kit, built with modifications to include electric train heating and air braking equipment.

The Diagram 99 Restaurant Miniature Buffet coach was built with Commonwealth bogies, weighed in at 38 tons, and could seat 44 passengers in two saloons either side of the bar area. The smaller saloon was designated as non-smoking from new. This particular vehicle was built at BR’s Wolverton Works in north Buckinghamshire in 1960 as part of Lot 30520, and it was originally allocated to the Scottish Region. The model is built to a scale of 1/43rd, 7mm to 1ft, and to ScaleSeven standards. A lot of research was needed to get the underframe details as accurate as possible, enhancing an already comprehensive kit.

A 1/43rd scale MMP kit, built with modifications to include electric train heating and air braking equipment.

This view shows some of the additional braking equipment fitted below the frames. The interior of the coach is also fully modelled—though, sadly, the client didn’t want scale representations of styrofoam cups, stale cheese sandwiches or concrete pork pies!

A 1/43rd scale MMP kit, built with modifications to include electric train heating and air braking equipment.

The buffer beam detailing was interesting and challenging, with the requirement to fit the extra air brake pipework and ETH sockets.

The kit’s designer knows the real thing intimately, and has managed to capture a lot of the subtle detailing of a Mk1 coach in his kit. It is probably safe to say this is about the most accurate Mk1 kit on the market today. As a build, it has been challenging, occasionally frustrating, but ultimately rewarding. There are parts I wish I could have done better, but that seems to always be the way with professional modelmaking.

I build railway models, mainly O Gauge (7mm scale), professionally. You can see more of my work, and read a little about what I do for a living, at my web site. I also have a Facebook page (@HeatherKModelmaker), and you can follow me on Twitter (search for @HKModelmaker).

Coming to terms

It’s been two weeks since we woke to a slim vote to leave the EU. Since then, having been a remainer, I’ve been through the shock, grief and anger stages. It affected me badly, and is still affecting Best Beloved.

I am still very angry. Angry at the mendacity chiefly from the leave side, angry at the ignorance, angry at what the result has unleashed, anger at those having perpetrated things then decided to just point the finger at everyone else and leave the stage. Anger, too, allied with frustration that the entire political class seems intent on in-fighting rather than sorting out the mess we find ourselves in.

Anger, though, doesn’t change much. We are where we are.

There’s a slim chance the whole thing can be kicked into the long grass. The vote was only advisory, has no bearing in law. The government would be stupid to ignore the vote, but the longer they take to enact Article 50—the official starting pistol for the true leave negotiations with the EU—the more likely it could be some kind of deal to remain properly in the EU would happen.

The thing is, despite petitions and marches, grumbling on social media, and the more traditional hurling obscenities at the television news bulletins, the only people who can do anything about anything are currently embroiled in leadership contests. Until that mud slinging stops, and of course the summer recess and conference season has passed, nothing will happen. We remain in limbo until at least October this year, as our world unravels.

It’s almost as if the politicians don’t care about what’s actually happening out here, in the real world. In their little Westminster bubble, they play their silly games as if it’s all that really matters. It is almost as if there is no constitutional crisis, no urgency to sort the mess out, nothing to worry about at all. Crisis? What crisis?

What we must do, those of us still angry about being told to stop grumbling because we “lost”, is hold our so-called leaders to account. If we have to leave the European Union, we must make damned sure we get the best possible deal, and we must fight tooth and nail to make certain those likely to be hardest hit by leaving will be given as much aid and support as they currently get from the EU.

There’s also the small matter of rebuilding our society. Fourteen days seems to have opened the cracks that many of us had thought filled and lost for several decades. All that has been undone must be done again.

It’s not going to be easy. We must each learn to direct our anger, to channel it to make sure that whatever happens we get to build a great future from the ruins of the past.

And there’s more!

While I had the lightbox out for the diesel photo shoot, I thought it might be fun to take some mini diorama shots of some model aircraft I’ve been building on and off as part of my ongoing Summer 1940 obsession.

Bristol Blenheim MkIVF WR-L, No 248 Squadron Coastal Command, is prepared for another patrol over the North Sea, some time in 1940. Airfix 1/72nd scale kits for the aircraft, oil bowser and Standard Tilly pickup; Flightpath Fordson tractor; Matador Models Albion AM463 refueller.

Bristol Blenheim MkIVF WR-L, No 248 Squadron Coastal Command, is prepared for another patrol over the North Sea, some time in 1940. Airfix 1/72nd scale kits for the aircraft, oil bowser and Standard Tilly pickup; Flightpath Fordson tractor; Matador Models Albion AM463 refueller.

Bristol Blenheim MkIVF WR-L, No 248 Squadron Coastal Command, is prepared for another patrol over the North Sea, some time in 1940. Airfix 1/72nd scale kits for the aircraft, oil bowser and Standard Tilly pickup; Flightpath Fordson tractor; Matador Models Albion AM463 refueller.

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley MkV, GE-B of No 58 Squadron Bomber Command, Linton-on-Ouse, North Yorkshire, gets some last minute attention before being bombed up for a night raid. Summer 1940. Airfix 1/72nd scale kits for the aircraft, oil bowser and Standard Tilly and Bedford ML pickups; Flightpath Fordson tractor.

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley MkV, GE-B of No 58 Squadron Bomber Command, Linton-on-Ouse, North Yorkshire, gets some last minute attention before being bombed up for a night raid. Summer 1940. Airfix 1/72nd scale kits for the aircraft, oil bowser and Standard Tilly and Bedford ML pickups; Flightpath Fordson tractor.

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley MkV, GE-B of No 58 Squadron Bomber Command, Linton-on-Ouse, North Yorkshire, gets some last minute attention before being bombed up for a night raid. Airfix 1/72nd scale kits for the aircraft, oil bowser and Standard Tilly and Bedford ML pickups; Flightpath Fordson tractor.

Traditionally, the Battle of Britain is seen as the mighty Luftwaffe, with four types of bomber and two types of fighter, ranged against the plucky RAF sporting two types of fighter and a few hangers on. My view, and of some historians of the subject, is once you take into account Bomber and Coastal Command numbers, the odds were much more even. So, as kits have become available, I have been adding the other commands to my Royal Air Force collection. In my stash I have a Handley Page Hampden, and I would love a decent Vickers Wellington and Airfix to reissue the Fairey Battle to make my Bomber Command fleet complete.

The only problem with all this model aircraft malarkey is where to store or display them! Outside of cabinets, they’re proper dust magnets!

The latest from the workbench

Life goes on here at Snaptophobic Towers. Despite the real world apparently collapsing at a rate of knots, work must go on. The latest to emerge from the workshop is this static model of a BR Western Region diesel-hydraulic loco D1042 Western Princess.

A 1/43rd scale JLTRT kit assembled to represent D1042 as the loco appeared, ex-works, around 1963. The model is static, and will be displayed in a case.

A 1/43rd scale JLTRT kit assembled to represent D1042 as the loco appeared, ex-works, around 1963. The model is static, and will be displayed in a case.

Close on D1042’s heels are three ex-GWR Collett bow-ended 57ft coaches. More on those shortly, I suspect. Another long-time workbench resident is a BR Mk1 RMB, which after a protracted gestation has finally got the roof fitted and painting under way. Hopefully, those builds plus one other will be cleared relatively quickly, helping the old bank balance, and leaving room for some new projects.

Don’t forget you can keep up with stuff on my web site, I’m on that there Facebook thing (Heather Kay Modelmaker is the search term of note), and I tweet modelling nonsense @HKModelmaker.

Oh, what have you done?

There are times in your life when something momentous or calamitous occurs. Think declaring war with Germany in 1939, the assassination of JFK, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Mandela walking free—those kinds of things. We seem to be in one of those moments.

Perhaps, as a child playing rather too boisterously, you managed to damage or break something precious. There’s no way it could be mended, no matter how hard you screwed up your eyes and prayed that it might miraculously be put back together again. You have a certain feeling, deep in the pit of your stomach, that signifies there’s been a significant shift in circumstances, and not necessarily for the better. There’s no going back. That’s it, done and dusted.

That’s how I feel about the EU in or out referendum our benighted country held on 23 June 2016, a day that will go down in history as most definitely not one of Britain’s finest.

I voted to remain in the European Union. My reasons are not important right now, I just felt it was the least worst option. Taking a leap into the unknown, on the basis of blatant fabrications, falsehoods and downright lies, seemed a little, well, terminal. I believe it still to be better to try and fix things with a hand on the tiller, than be tied to the mast with no say in how the ship is run. If it doesn’t get better, then think about leaving some other time.

Inevitably, immigration came seething to the fore during the campaign, because the failure of western capitalism was all the fault of the foreigners, of course—even though it’s not and never has been. It dominated the discussion, even though it was plain there was no simple solution, and wouldn’t change much if we decided to leave anyway. Another fact that got swept away in the tide of xenophobia.

Although the result of the vote was close, it tipped to leaving. Just over half of those who bothered to vote decided we should take that leap into the unknown. As it turned out, the consequences have been exactly as predicted. Depending on who you believe, the economy is struggling, the pound is plummeting, the world’s stock markets have the jitters, Scotland wants out of the union, other EU member states are hoping they might be next to take the plunge and leave the gang, and we have no sensible government after the prime minister threw in the towel and the opposition decided to start a leadership battle. To cap it all, reports are that racist and xenophobic incidents have increased by over 50 per cent. It seems that some of those who wanted us “out” really wanted the “out” to mean everyone who wasn’t born here or was perceived as foreign purely by dint of their skin colour. Whether the Faragists expected this to happen, who knows? The fact is the dis-United Kingdom is now a grubbier, more violent and unhappy place than it was.

It’s not even been a week since the vote, and already it seems like the end of days! The worst is the feeling that there is no way out. There’s no escape. There’s nowhere to run and hide. We are stuck in this chaotic farce that needn’t have happened, and we’ve broken the country irrevocably. We can’t screw up our eyes and try to will it all back together again.

I find it unbelievable that it has come to this. Did the Powers That Be not foresee this might be the outcome? Were they so cock sure the remain side would win they didn’t consider what might happen if that didn’t come to pass? Indeed, did the leave side really not have any form of plan of what to do in case they won?

Alas, so it seems. No-one expected to lose or win or split almost evenly down the middle, so we’re left with chaos and anarchy and no idea of what to do from anywhere. There’s no reset button.

Forget Article 50 being kicked into the long grass, Scottish Parliament vetoes, rerunning referendums. It’s too late. The genie is out of the bottle. There’s no going back. We have crossed the Rubicon. We are in uncharted waters, with no-one steering the boat.

Everything that I took more or less for granted in my world is suddenly inverted. It’s broken, shattered. There is no stability any more. Everything is twisted, torn and shredded. We are so screwed. Hate, it seems, is winning. I find I am swinging wildly between grief, dread and profound and deepening anger. One moment I’m laughing at the absurdity of it all, the next I’m in tears of sheer desperation.

How dare we be plunged into this chaos for no apparent good reason. Yet, life goes on. The sun still rises in the east; birds sing; we have to eat, shop, pretend our world is not imploding in some calm British sort of way. I don’t think I can cope with pretending it’s all normal much longer. It wasn’t my fault, but I’m tangled up in it, and it’s not fair!

So I say again: what have YOU done‽

A new family member

It’s been just over a week since Sophie-puss left us. As is our way we went straight over to our nearest Cats Protection centre to be chosen all over again.

Losing a pet is always hard, it never gets easier, but is made easier for us at least by finding a new friend as soon as possible. On the first day, we met a few likely cats, but it was our second visit where Billy-puss made his feelings known.

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Here he is. Another black cat, so that was one box ticked. The second box was a fluffy tail. Oh boy! That was a definite tick. Billy came to the front of his pen as soon as we went in the main door, and spoke to us. Another box ticked. We were formally introduced, and we pretty much made up our minds Billy would like to come home with us as soon as we’d met properly.

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We collected Billy from the centre this morning, and got him home just after eleven o’clock. It took a little while for him to find his bearings in his new home, but by the time two hours had passed it was obvious he felt very happy with the way things were turning out. He has even met our neighbour, and wasn’t freaked out, which was a relief.

Billy, is four years old. He came into the rescue centre a few months ago, and was originally in the pen with his brother. Billy was very timid and nervous, while his brother was boisterous and a little aggressive. Separating the pair let Billy blossom into the friendly boy he is now. 

Now he is home, he seems to be very, very happy. He just joined me at my desk and tried to help type this post. What he really wanted, of course, was a big fuss. He likes his ears rubbed. He likes a head-butt. He likes to be groomed. He doesn’t sit on a lap—yet. 

We generally like to home house-trained cats. As we know Billy is already domestic, we find it best to let him explore, find where everything is. We didn’t follow him around so he wouldn’t feel intimidated. We know there are various places Billy can go where we would like him to feel safe. We are giving him space to feel at home.
Barring unfortunate illness, Billy should be with us for some years to come. We might consider another cat in time, but for now, Billy is Top Cat.

Some milestones yet to pass are using the litter tray and eating something. Billy knows where they are.